All the Other Julie Becks and Me

Excerpt from this article:

The string of letters that spell “Julie Beck” are used to represent many wildly different people. They symbolize me, but they also symbolize a nursing professor in Pennsylvania, an attorney in Michigan, and 192 others in my country alone. In the real world, those different meanings have no problem coexisting. Each Julie Beck exists in her own social context, and these contexts rarely, if ever, overlap. But on the internet, they’re all smooshed together. To Google, one Julie Beck is the same as another. (Unless you add some keywords.)

“I think we’re at a funny inflection point where certainly in terms of individual identification in a worldwide system, proper names don’t really make any sense,” says Judith Donath, the author of The Social Machine: Designs for Living Online, and an adviser at Harvard University.

Governments already identify people with unique numbers, so we don’t need to be able to be identified from our names alone. But names feel more significant now that so much of modern life is textual. Names are our stand-ins, our brands, they do the heavy lifting of symbolizing our selves in places where our bodies aren’t. But often, they aren’t ours alone. And while offline we’re usually distant enough from our name doppelgangers that it doesn’t matter, online we have to share space.